COVID-19 has affected the world in countless ways, laying bare the fragility of our physical and digital infrastructures and spurring many organizations to accelerate their timelines for digital transformation. Although a 2019 survey by Gartner found that 82% of CEOs were working towards a more digital future, few had made enough headway by the end of the year to be prepared for a black swan event.
In other cases, businesses that once thought digital innovation to be the exclusive realm of tech disruptors suddenly had to grapple with the reality that they, too, would need to start operating in the virtual space. Though many of the ad-hoc solutions that emerged as a result have helped bridge gaps during a time of rapidly changing needs, those bridges are shaky at best—and budgets remain frozen while the realities of reopening and restaffing loom large.
“Even prior to COVID, 92 percent of companies anticipated changes in their business models due to global digitization. Now, mid-crisis, there’s immediate demand and significant momentum for those changes…”
Fast-tracking digital transformation during a downturn
Generally speaking, it’s the technologies that have improved collaboration and transparency while prioritizing online identity security that are thriving amidst the global crisis. Global research firm IDC estimates that the pandemic will drive a 2.7 percent decline in worldwide IT spending, yet infrastructure and software spending are expected to continue to grow, likely in support of expanded remote work policies and associated collaboration tools.
Even prior to COVID, 92 percent of companies surveyed by McKinsey anticipated changes in their business models due to global digitization. Now, mid-crisis, there’s immediate demand and significant momentum for those changes in areas such as cybersecurity, data analytics, and improving the customer’s online experience—but also the threat of displacement for organizations that miss their window of opportunity.
Those that act quickly and embrace change will likely come out ahead. The McKinsey research shows that “companies that move early and decisively in a crisis” achieve a significant competitive advantage: eight years after the recessions of 2007-08, those that had prioritized a “through-cycle mindset” during the downturn led their peers by more than 150 percentage points in terms of cumulative total returns to shareholders.
The clear takeaway here is that, in order to come out of this crisis poised for success in the “new normal,” you must prioritize your digital transformation now. Here’s how:
Four tips to fast-track your digital transformation right now
- Reassess your roadmap
It’s safe to say that many of the digital behavioral changes that have emerged during the pandemic are likely to stick around. Others, such as relaxed regulations in certain sectors, will continue to evolve.
This is a wake-up call for organizations that have placed too much focus on daily operational needs at the expense of investing in digital business and long-term resilience,” says Sandy Shen, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “Businesses that can shift technology capacity and investments to digital platforms will mitigate the impact of the outbreak and keep their companies running smoothly now, and over the long term.
In reassessing your position in this new landscape, start by considering the needs of your current customers. Use what you’ve learned from adapting to COVID to identify opportunities for growth and innovation, specifically including ways to digitize interactions, facilitate customers’ transition from offline to online channels, and encourage adoption.Don’t hesitate to bring in outside experts, either. Independent transformation consultants can help with everything from digitizing interactions and monitoring regulatory changes to developing minimum viable products for faster delivery of innovative digital solutions. Because they only stick around as long as you need them to, bringing in independent consulting talent is often more cost-effective than hiring a big firm, too.
- Maintain organizational alignment
It was tough to do before, and even tougher now that everyone is working remotely. But that means organizational alignment is all the more important, too. Your revamped roadmap has little value unless everyone is using it.
Whether you’ve been through a large-scale transformation before or not, it’s risky to assume all transformations are the same. Research by Harvard Business Review found that 75 percent of the 1.2 trillion spent on digital transformation in 2018 was wasted due to projects that fell short of their goals. And in its 2019 Chaos Report, The Standish Group revealed that 84% of technology projects “partially or completely fail.
Enterprise-wide transformation starts with organizational alignment and is realized through effective change management. Engaging a digital change management expert can help get the C-Suite on board and keep everyone on the same page so that critical milestones aren’t missed. By getting your key stakeholders to embrace change as a mindset rather than a checklist, you can help keep your teams from backsliding into old habits and processes.
- Rebalance your talent strategy
As some workers return from furlough while others fight burnout from continuous high-pressure work cycles, it’s critical to rebuild your teams for greater resilience and innovation.
A recent survey by OpsRamp revealed that “94 percent of IT decision-makers find it somewhat difficult, difficult or very difficult to hire the right technology professionals to manage their hybrid infrastructure” as they transition to a digital-first strategy. Adding to the challenge is the fact that these roles are in especially high demand right now, leaving a shortage of qualified full-time IT professionals.
As a result, many organizations are updating their hiring strategies to include freelance consultants. They turn to talent marketplaces such as Business Talent Group to connect with experienced top-level consultants, many of whom hail from “Big 3” firms or Fortune 50 companies.
These high-end technology consultants help guide companies through digital transformations by providing the flexibility of on-demand expertise in specialized and emerging areas of knowledge. Depending on where the business is in its transformation, they can provide support to fast-track a wide range of digital transformation initiatives, from accelerating product launches and implementing cybersecurity strategies to providing critical skill sets during times of rapid scale.
- Stay agile
This once-in-a-lifetime crisis will leave an indelible mark on our processes and strategies, but the only constant is change. In order to continuously adapt to evolving market needs and customer experience objectives, your internal processes have to be built with agility in mind. Teams that are empowered to focus on objectives rather than discrete tasks get more done because they’re able to make decisions, test, and iterate more rapidly.
Even prior to COVID, McKinsey found that, “The top 10 percent of companies in terms of revenue growth are more than 50 percent more effective than peers in testing, measuring and executing based on what they’ve learned.” This agility is only possible once centralized decision-making is dismantled in favor of “embedding a culture of experimentation, learning, and iterating.
Preparing for the “new normal”
As the world starts reopening, ramping up back-end operations is the focus for many companies, but those that back-burner digital transformation projects until full recovery risk being disrupted and displaced. On-demand support from independent consultants, digital experts, and project managers can be a game-changer, offering the increased flexibility and targeted expertise in areas like data science, IoT, and IT strategy that businesses need in order to transform rapidly and cost-effectively.
Ultimately, it’s the organizations that are able to balance fiscal concerns with enterprise-wide transformation that are most likely to emerge from this crisis stronger than before.
About the AuthorMore Content by Emily Slayton